ჩემი გული არის საკარტველოში! (my heart is in Georgia)
It’s been several weeks since my last entry, which would usually signify nothing of consequence has occurred. Such a supposition could not be further from the truth. My life has been full of late. Full of elation. Full of pain. Full of work. Full of confusion. And, full of peace. How could all of these sensations inhabit my mind and soul simultaneously, eschewing the standard, linear, “good-day bad-day” routine that seems to make up our lives?
To that end, I lack a complete answer, but recent events have gotten me to thinking (not that much of a stretch for those of you who know me well), about the “whys?” of life. Awhile back, I had become quite troubled. Teaching work continued to elude me and my job of driving a cab had become a grind; something that I began to hate on a visceral level. It tainted my life…one of those jobs that exhausts you in all ways, even though you really don’t DO anything. I began to think that leaving Georgia had been a mistake.
When I left the Peace Corps, I had been sure that I had made the right decision. But as spring became summer, I found myself dissatisfied with my choice. I missed my friends (both Georgian and American), the wacky, yet endearing nature of Georgian culture, and yes, I even missed khatchapuri! I was trying to make sense out of something that hadn’t been played out….kind of like reviewing a book after reading only three chapters. So what can one do when impatience arises, served with a side dish of frustration (all you care to eat!)?
Well, like any good over-educated, under-employed Caucasian lad, I made the only “logical” choice: more school. Sensing the universe had pushed me, somewhat unwillingly, away from my first, best destiny (teaching), I dutifully corralled my transcripts and applied to the College of Urban Affairs (sustainability, planning, and the like) with visions of helping “fix what’s broke”. It’s amazing that no matter how jaded we become, the thought of learning a new skill can fill us with the idealism that permeated our youthful 20’s. Although it is somewhat muted these days, it was nice to know it still exists.
Then, strangely, things began to happen. Out of the blue, a school I had interviewed with back in May called and asked me to come in for a second interview. I prepared a mock lecture, went in and did the only dance I can pull off…shooting my mouth off for 40 minutes and tying all of it up into a nice, neat, educational bow. Yes, folks my lectures do indeed have at least one thing in common with an old episode of “Full House”: there is a lesson at the end (perhaps I should write for television?) I waited, cautiously optimistic, for days. One day, I came home and found an email in my box from the school. My heart sank…I mean, no one offers you a job via email, do they? Well, some folks do and I got that job.
Now, when I started at my last school, elation and focus were derailed by the death of my favorite dog and best friend Newman, who died very unexpectedly during the first week of staff meetings. This time I had total focus, grateful for this chance I had been given after I had depressingly written off my chances of teaching this coming school year. And then, three days before I was to begin teaching (we start early at my school), I heard it on the BBC news: Georgia and Russia were in a shooting war.
I never in a million years would have thought I would see my little Georgian home of Senaki in the news, but yes, Russians had bombed my town and 2 days later would invade and occupy it. My PC friends were evacuating to Armenia and many calling cards were expended. I called Senaki, and managed to get through and talk with my host family, who thankfully were all safe. In one of those strange moments in life, where one can find humor in tragedy, I recall the conversation I had with my old boss, Gia.
When he answered and found out it was me, the first minutes of the conversation were all about how much they missed me and hoped I was doing well. Gia talks faster than I do, and I couldn’t get a word in as I struggled to pick out key Georgian words from his questions (he speaks no English). How are you? Where are you? How is your family? All these things you would never think would emanate from a man whose town and family were just bombed by Russian jets.
Finally, after I answered all his queries in my shaky Georgian, there was a pause on the line. And then…”Errrr…Joni, Senakshi Problem!!” (John, in Senaki there is a problem”). Georgians are normally very dramatic people. Every aspect of life, no matter how mundane, can take on epic proportions when told by a Georgian. I found it so very ironic that such a succinct and matter-of-fact declaration would refer to war. I mean, Gia is a man that talks with such passion about broccoli, for instance, that you would think war would be the end all be all. But it was not that way. I am not ashamed that it made me chuckle a bit because Gia knows I miss and worry about them. He knows what side I’m on. As I said my goodbyes, I knew that something more was needed. And in some strange flash, I managed to put together a sentence in Georgian that, for once, came from inside me rather than a dictionary. “Gia, ekhla, chemi guli aris kartuli” გია, ეხლა, ჩემი გული არის კარტული“ (Gia, now, my heart is Georgian).
So now I know that PC has closed up shop in Georgia. Had I stayed, I would be on my way home now. Too late for any teaching job. Too late for any university studies. Too late to have met new friends. Too late to have found my cozy Georgian-esque” “bina” (apartment) with no window screens, sporadic hot water, and a tiny gas petchi.
But because I came home early, I have been a source of information about this terrible conflict to people who never would have seen it differently than any other “minor” war. A far away country most had never heard of, fighting over things that most Americans can’t understand. I, having lived in this country, have been able to put a human face on the conflict for my friends and students while it was happening. And for that I think there is a reason. I won’t say that all is perfect in my life…far from it to be sure. I am still trying to find out what my role is in all this (if any) but at least there is finally a bit of focus.
Strangely, I miss Georgia more than ever now. And, even more oddly, it seems a calm has spread over my once chaotic and rudder-less life. The days fly by at work…10 hours one day, 12 the next. So much to do, but not in the overwhelming sense of that first week of meetings and war. Now, there are classes here and occupation there. But Georgia is never far from the front of my mind. So strange to see Russian troops in Gori’s Stalin Square…from the pictures I can see the ATM where I would get money, the street where just 100 yards south, lies the internet café where I would upload postings to you all, and the Intotourist Hotel where we PCV‘s would gather and become too loud and too drunk from time to time (OK, most of the time). In Poti where me, Thais, and her host sister Sopo would eat khinkali and drink never-cold-enough Georgian beer, there are now Russian armored vehicles. In Senaki, where Zuriko and I would play nardi, eat cheese and m’chade, and drink homemade wine, there is now a bombed town and razed army base. I left Georgia, in part due to my frustration that they weren’t changing fast enough. Now I am heartbroken because Georgia has changed so very much since I left.